Her master’s thesis show might have closed at Bethel College’s Regier Art Gallery, but Rachel Epp Buller, Ph.D., is far from done with the work.
Epp Buller, associate professor of visual art and design at Bethel, completed an MFA in creative practice from the Transart Institute of Plymouth University last summer. In October, she gave a major public presentation of her work in Bethel’s Regier Gallery.
The show was called “Listening Across Time.” It is ongoing as a project Epp Buller calls “Taking Care,” for which her media are hand-written letters, fabric and thread.
Epp Buller received some special support during the week of Thanksgiving through a residency in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
She spent a week at Upominki, “a nonprofit project space” started in 2012 by the Rotterdam-based artist Weronika Zielinska-Klein.
The foundation of “Listening Across Time” was hand-written letters that inspired drawings, letterpress prints, photographs, artist books, audio recordings and embroidery.
It had a participatory aspect, in which Epp Buller invited exhibit visitors to write her letters about acts of care they had received. Her work continues as she embroiders parts of those and other letters onto fabric.
Upominki (the word means “gifts” in Polish) was “founded around the idea of hospitality,” Epp Buller says. “When [Weronika] comes across a person or artist whose work meshes with that idea, she invites them for a residency. We knew each other slightly, she was aware of my work, and she invited me.”
During Epp Buller’s week at Upominki, she spent six hours a day embroidering, sometimes alone and sometimes with others.
She also visited with local artist groups, particularly students from the nearby Willem de Koonig Academie, who came to Upominki.
Embroidering letters is a time-consuming process – Epp Buller says it generally takes a day to finish the words in one letter. The residency gave her a small but concentrated block of time in which to do that.
The letters relate stories of care, but also represent “acts of care by the people who write them,” she says. “The slowness is a way of doing justice to a very personal and intimate sharing.”
When she had visitors, she says, she would talk to them about her work up to that point. Her work-space had a plate-glass window that looked on to a residential area. People who passed would sometimes come in and talk to her, she says, while others would just look and keep moving.
In addition, friends of Upominki were invited to participate in Epp Buller’s residency.
The invitations informed people that Epp Buller would be “[embroidering] words in a durational performance devoted to care and listening.
“Rachel’s work explores letter-writing as an act of care and a bond of human connection that is directly connected to slowing down, taking time to take care, with our words and for each other. The artist invites participants to write her a letter that recounts an act of care, large or small. She offers to receive these words, to intimately listen, and to embroider the words to make publicly visible these often unseen labors.
“[She] welcomes community members to join her in embroidering, crocheting, knitting, or just in conversation.”
At the end of the week, Upominki hosted “Dear friend: a performative reading of letters across time,” excerpts from Epp Buller’s MFA thesis, which she performed with artists Deirdre Donoghue, Barbara Philipp and Zielinska-Klein.
Upominki described it as a “performative reading of letters and epistolary texts [that] considers how feminist maternal relations of care and attunement in the present, and a willingness to listen to voices from the past, might help us to radically reorient our ways of relational being for the future.”
“I wanted to have time to focus [on the project] for a string of days,” Epp Buller says, “looking for renewed energy. It’s the kind of art I want to give dedicated intensive periods of time like this to.
“I’m learning people are hungry for this kind of communicating, of connecting with other people – ways to find authentic communication and relationship.”
Epp Buller has taught art and art history at Bethel College since 2012. Last September, the Kansas Art Education Association named her its Outstanding Art Educator-Higher Education for 2018-19.
In 2017, Epp Buller received Bethel’s Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching, based largely on peer recommendations and student evaluations.
In addition to the MFA, Epp Buller has a B.A. (with a triple major, in art, history and German) from Bethel College and an M.A. and Ph.D., both in art history, from the University of Kansas.
Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
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